All those feelings,
Those yesterday's feelings,
Have all been lost in time -
But today, I'm drifting away -
'Cause today is on my mind...
The first time she finds her mother having sex, she is six years old.
She comes home sick from preschool, and her nanny is in the kitchen fixing her soup, but she doesn't know that. She wanders out of bed and down the hall, and when she looks into her mother's room her mother is moaning and yelling, and there is a strange man on top of her. She tells him to stop hurting her mother, and he laughs at her, gets up, and slams the door in her face.
She does not realize until many years later that the man was the producer of a major TV show; all she knows at the time is that the next day, Mom is laughing and smiling, and telling her that she has a new contract and that yesterday was fine, alright, not bad at all. She buys her a doll and tells her that she is fine.
She is seven when she sees her nanny doing drugs in her bedroom.
It is very late at night, and she woke up to find the house empty. Her mother is gone – "shooting late at the set" is what she calls it, but she is not that naïve anymore – but Lilah is usually there, in her bedroom, or in the kitchen. So she goes on an adventure to find her.
She finds her, alright, in the back bedroom in the house, with two boys and another girl, and there are needles there too. She watches from the crack in the door as Lilah and the other people stick themselves, and then their words are slurring together and melting off of their tongues, and soon it's not only words that are melting off.
She turns away and silently closes the door before she sees anything else.
She cries herself to sleep that night, and when she wakes up the next morning she plants her mother's best necklace in Lilah's pocket.
When her nanny is fired, the little girl she once was cries, because even if Lilah had a few not-nice friends, she was that little girl's only friend.
When she is seven and a half, she discovers the internet.
It is here that her "disabilities" make her the most frustrated, because she can sense all of the information of the world at her fingertips, only she can't read any of it. She calls herself stupid for the first time that day.
Still, she forges onward. She needs to know about the world, because the more she knows, the less it can hurt her.
Somewhere inside her bruised heart, she knows that a seven-and-a-half-year-old should never have to think that. She brushes the feeling aside, and with it, her childhood.
When she is nine, she goes to her first Hollywood party.
It's only a B-list party, because her mother is only a B-list star, but it's still an overly flamboyant Hollywood party, and it's still no place for a child who's nine years old. She shoves that feeling away too, and she watches and says nothing as adults shower themselves in champagne and dance together in a sexual way that she recognizes from – where else? – the internet.
She makes everything sterile in her mind by giving it scientific terms.
In her mind, her mother isn't grinding pathetically, frantically against that pudgy man with the toupee. No, her mother ceases to become her mother, and becomes instead a different species, a female under observation. Looking for a mate, she seeks out a male and proceeds to initiate a mating ritual. When her mother – the subject, she corrects herself – lets out a wild, drunken laugh, she labels it as a mating call.
She falls asleep on a couch outside of the ballroom, curled up in a little ball. When she wakes in the morning, she is in a hotel room with her mother collapsed in the other bed.
She begins to skip school two weeks before her eleventh birthday.
She is standing just inside the cold, black iron fence in the middle of winter when she gets the idea. She sees some of the high school kids in the parking lot across the street. They are crouched, pathetically hidden, behind the dumpster. She sees the flicker of a lighter, and she rolls her eyes. Cigarettes, coke, it doesn't matter. They could just smoke in the bathroom like every other kid on the planet.
The smoking isn't what interests her. No, it's the concept of not being here, trapped behind these bars, tethered down by her stiff blazer jacket and starched blouse and skirt. Her knee-high socks itch against her calves, and her standard-issued Mary Janes are suddenly constricting, confining.
She slips out between the bars behind the kid's football field, and she takes off running. She only stops when she can no longer see the school behind her. She sits on the curb, her hair falling in fifty different directions, and she laughs for the first time in forever.
It feels amazing to be free.
She still goes to school, on and off. She goes in order to keep up her steady "C" average, because if it dips lower than a "C," the principal calls her mother, and the last thing that she needs is her mother to meet her principal.
But more often than not, she goes in for the first four classes and then skips out. She sticks around for a test, maybe, but the teachers don't really miss her. She turns in assignments, shows up for make-ups; she makes tutoring appointments, and nine out of ten times she keeps them. But school has become like a birdcage with its door open; she goes back for the occasional meal, to maybe keep up appearances, but for all practical purposes it has no use. She changes in the bathroom stall, clambers deftly out the window, and she is gone.
Weekdays oft find her wandering aimlessly down the shopping district. She practices her lying: she tells the inquiring saleslady that she is from New Orleans, in on Mardi Gras break, and then she tells the suspicious policeman that she goes to St. Agnes Elementary, which had its fair this weekend, so she has off today.
She spends most of her time in music stores. With her ripped jeans and artsy t-shirts, she gravitates away from Britney and Shania and whoever else is over there, and she is suddenly introduced to Paul and John and George and Ringo, and oh, look at Freddie Mercury. From Freddie, she sprouts to Guns n' Roses, and onward to They Might Be Giants, and Phantom Rockers, The Used, Blink-182, and The Who.
One day, she is listening to Billy Joel and a new display catches her eye. Nothing more than curiosity spurs her onward, and she tosses the barcode of the CD beneath the scanner. She closes her eyes and listens.
"Here comes the rain again, falling from the stars…drenched in my pain again, becoming who we are…"
She steps out into the street, the CD tucked safely in its baggie. She smiles up into the torrential rain, and she pretends that the hot drops against her face came from the sky.
She is three weeks from twelve when she hears her mother burst into the house.
It is five in the afternoon, and she is never home this early. She hears screaming, and despite herself she is drawn into the scene.
Her mother is sitting at the kitchen table, drinking Chardonnay straight from the bottle. She finishes and throws it at the wall. "Take that, you bastard!" she screams. Her mascara is dripping off of her face and she sobs brokenly, and she hugs herself tight. Her face contorts into something disgusting as she throws herself again and again into the kitchen counter, slamming her tender stomach into the marble.
"Like hell am I having another," she weeps, angry and broken and filled with a horrible sort of desperate beauty. "Christ, no. Not any more. No more damn children." She snatches her purse, ignoring the keys and change that skitter across the counter. She pops the top of her pill bottle and dry swallows five.
"One is damn well enough," she whispers as she sinks to the floor. She is away from the world in less than five minutes, her chest rising and falling steadily enough.
She sighs. She lugs her up the stairs and tucks her into bed, cleaning her face off with a strange tenderness. She sweeps up the broken bottle of Chardonnay and puts her mother's purse in order. She takes two of the credit cards from her wallet, along with the two hundreds she finds.
She steals into her mother's "office" and opens the small metal safe in the corner where she overheard her mother's agent telling her mother's banker about the secret credit account he had set up. "For that poor child," he had said.
Well, that poor child needed money.
She dresses well, combat boots on her feet, a thick winter jacket covering her torso. Clothes are packed, money stored safely. The note that she leaves is succinct – not that she could write well in the first place.
"Zero is better than one," it says.
Two weeks later, she is a week from twelve and wandering aimlessly about the park.
She looks over, and she sees him. His jeans are broken in and worn, obviously stitched and patched in some places. His mittens are darned, and his jacket is hand-me-down. Despite that, however, he manages to look like an angel in the winter landscape.
She doesn't know why she sits next to him, but she does; she bites back a smile as she sees him looking at her curiously from the corner of her eye. She lets out a huff of air, watching in fascination as it flies away on the cold winter air. She watches it float away, like a cloud in that beautiful blue sky, and she frowns as her thoughts take an abrupt turn towards her mother – her mother, whose eyes were so often clouded over.
She feels sadness and anger wash over her like waves breaking on the shore, and she has the sudden urge to cry. She beats the urge soundly with a large mental stick, and she softly confronts the beautiful, staring boy next to her.
"You know," she says quietly, "if you want to talk to me instead of just stare, you should probably say something." She turns to look at him, and her whole body tingles when her eyes meet his. She feels tendrils of her hair escaping the stuffy confines of her bright red ski cap, and she can only imagine what a sad, disheveled image she must make next to this angelic boy.
"What are you here for?" he asks. She feels a brief flash of irritation, and feels like getting up and walking away. She doesn't. "Shouldn't you be with your parents?"
She stops herself from hitting him – barely.
"You're one to talk," she retorts. She can feel her fury, scorching in her throat like lava. He's her age, and he's out here alone, and he's probably worse off, and if he is he deserves it –
"I'm running away," he tells her, suddenly. "Or running back home. I haven't decided yet."
…and all of a sudden, he doesn't deserve it, because dammit all, they're in the same boat and that would be too much like treachery…and that's something that she can't stand. Traitors are the lowest of the low. So instead she backs down from the anger and settles for raising an eyebrow.
"Well, that's very specific," she comments wryly.
"Shut up," he sulks. She fights back a smile. "I didn't plan very well. I don't do planning. It was very spur-of-the-moment." She bites the inside of her cheek; he's working so hard to be brusque, she finds it nearly sweet.
"And so now you're out of cash?"
"Got enough for one more bus ride. It'll get me home." The thought appears extremely depressing, and she finds herself sympathizing with him; after all, she's been there.
"Right back where you started."
"Yeah, got that, thanks."
This time, she allows herself a small quirk of her lips that quickly fades. Her eyes have latched onto a sight across the way, and she can feel her heart swelling. A little girl, her face patterned with sunspots, is being converged upon by two loving parents, cuddling her close, pressing kisses down upon her tiny joyous face.
She feels the longing pressing up against the edges of her beaten, bruised-up heart. It feels like she is going to burst, because really, behind her premature cynicism and sarcasm and dark demeanor, all she truly is is a little girl standing all alone in an oversized skin, waiting for someone to give her just one little kiss.
"You're running away too."
His voice is soft and respectful; he can feel her pain, he knows her pain. She nods, even though she knows it's not really a question.
"From my mother. Don't have a father." How she wishes she did. Maybe a father would have made her mother love her more.
"You and me both." Somehow, she feels he is responding to both her spoken statement and her wistful thought, and it warms her inside to think that way. The ice thaws a bit, and she allows a slightly bigger smile to slip through to him.
"So hey. What do you say you buy us some lunch with that bus money, and I pay for our bus fares?" She is taking a risk here, a gamble, and she knows it – but she can feel something inside of him that she feels inside of her, too, and if she loses him here she has a distinct, terrifying feeling that it will be the end of some part of her.
"So that's it?" he asks, obviously uncertain. "We're a team now?"
She shrugs. Her skin is itching with awkwardness. "Yeah. I mean, if you want. We're both...in the same boat, I guess. My mom doesn't want me, and obviously my dad doesn't care, and it looks like it's the same for you. If you don't want to, we don't have to, it's okay..." A small piece of her soul breaks, and it hurts more than her dying, stone heart.
"But do you have enough money for two?"
Hope like a shooting star blazes across her mind. She flashes a grin and her golden Master Card. "Thanks to my mom. She actually doesn't know about this account yet. Her agent opened it for her as a reserve. I heard him talking to her bank manager about it, and I snuck the card out of his office after I distracted him. I planned," she says, teasing.
"So what's for lunch?" he asks.
"I'm feeling like Chinese. How about you?"
"Sounds good," he says. He bites his lip, and then smiles softly. "I'm Luke."
She smiles, feeling the light push away the encroaching night inside her chest. "Thalia," she says. "I'm Thalia."
She stands, stretching, and grins back at him. She holds out her hand, and when he takes it she feels like she could fly.
She is a week past twelve when she survives her first real monster.
They sit, pressed together, in the backseat of an old Greyhound bus. The man sitting at the other end of the seat is making both of them a little wary, and they push closer to the other side.
"I don't like him," he whispers, and she tries to focus more on the words than on the slide of his breath against her skin.
"Me neither," she replies.
When he lunges at them with a great, swinging sword a few minutes later, neither of them are really surprised.
A week and three days plus twelve years.
"How long have you known?"
They are lying side by side beneath the stars. Grass whispers around them, and if Thalia listens enough, she thinks she can hear the deep heartbeat of the earth.
"Known what?" she asks, twirling grass around her fingers. Her eyes trace the stars – there is Orion, his sword and his belt, and his dog.
"That you weren't…normal."
She snorts. "I was never normal. Even if I didn't see things like that huge sword and dogs with their eyes on fire, I wouldn't be normal."
She feels his smile more than she sees it. "Me too," he says.
She sighs. "I don't know. I mean, yeah, I'm a problem kid. ADHD, dyslexia…. I hate school. But still…the other kids never saw…saw huge men with one eye, or, or, a freaking manticore. I mean, I know that it's stupid, but sometimes…" She closes her eyes. "Sometimes it feels like I fell into my history textbook, you know? Right on the…"
"The mythology page," he finishes, and without knowing, she knows that he is like that too.
His fingers find hers, and when they do it feels like an intimacy long overdue.
Two weeks after she turns twelve, she kills for the first time.
The man from the bus has found them, just outside a little town in Washington. He lunges at her, but she rolls and dodges as thunder and lightning battle overhead. She tosses up a prayer – Dad, whoever the hell you are, some help would be pretty cool right now – without thinking much about it; she is more worried for Luke, who was thrown against a tree and still hasn't gotten up. She cries out his name, and he moans.
She reaches out to him, and that's when it happens.
She suddenly feels as though she is on fire and in ice at the same time. Her soul is soaring, her mind unhindered – she is powerful, and she relishes in the feeling. Her fingertips crackle with unspent energy, and the song of that titanic force sings in her blood…her very soul.
Then it is over, only there is still fire on her wrist and in her hand, and when she looks she has a sort of power of her own. Clumsily, at first, and then with rising grace, she jabs at the man with her spear, warding him away with her new shield. She takes a last, furious stab, and he explodes in a rain of dust.
She collapses to the ground, unable to respond to Luke's cries of her name.
She is two weeks, two days, and twelve years old when she wakes up.
There is a grubby blonde child leaning over her. Gray eyes peer cautiously into hers, and then a shy smile makes an appearance.
"Luke!" the child calls. "She's awake!"
He comes hurrying into sight, new lines of worry etched into his face. They fade away to almost nothing when he sees her sitting up, leaning on the small blonde child beside her. He is at her side a moment later, his hands cool against her suddenly too-tight, too-hot skin.
"What…?" she rasps. Her throat is drier than the desert, and her tongue feels like sandpaper in her mouth. "Where…?" she coughs.
He smiles gently at her. "Annabeth," he says, "pass me one of those water bottles, will you?"
The girl – Annabeth? – responds immediately, handing him a large bottle of Dasani. He unscrews the cap and carefully pours water into her mouth.
"I couldn't see what happened exactly," he says. "It was too bright. But I…you were coming towards me, and then there was this huge flash of lightning. I…I could feel my eardrums almost bursting, and I closed my eyes because it hurt so badly. But when I opened them again, you…Thalia, you were like lightning. You were glowing, and there was a shield and this…this spear. And I ran to you, but they were gone."
She raises her wrist, and cool silver charms bump haphazardly into her skin. She runs her finger over it, and she is almost surprised when the shield spirals out. She feels a heavy weight in her jacket pocket, but she will save the spear for later. For now, she turns to the girl. "Who are you?" she asks.
"My name is Annabeth Chase," she says, her gray eyes serious. "I'm a demigod."
She is twelve years and three-fourths of a month old when she starts to believe in the gods.
It is after they defeat a bizarre snake-woman – Annabeth called her a dracaena – and as she stands there, covered in dust, panting, she realizes what she is doing.
She realizes that she has killed a manticore, and that she has seen dogs with flaming eyes, and men with greatswords, and one-eyed men watching her, and snake-women, and she has fought these things. All of her life, she has explained away the things that she could not fathom, making them unreal, and she realizes that this is just like the Mist that her literature teacher kept talking about in the Odyssey.
She turns to Luke, and he sees the knowledge in her eyes, and his smile is equal parts happy and understanding. She is fully with him now, and they both know it.
They place Annabeth between them, offer a silent prayer to the gods, and they walk on. The girl sings happily about something-or-other, and Thalia pretends she doesn't hear the tremors in her voice.
She is twelve and two months when she falls in love.
She is sitting beneath an oak tree in a forest somewhere in Wisconsin, draining the last can of Coke from a six-pack Luke stole two towns ago. Annabeth and Luke are playing hide-n-seek, dashing between the trees. Thalia is base, a fact that she sorely resents. Every time she is base, she winds up with a bruise because one of them slides into her at full speed.
Luke appears from nowhere, dropping down from a branch ten feet off the ground. He lands soundlessly, like a cat, and he comes at her in a graceful canter. He reaches to tap her shoulder, and his foot is suddenly caught by a treacherous root, and he falls.
She feels her head slamming against the trunk, and the back of her shirt sliding up as she is pushed down. The skin on her lower back is brush-burned, she can feel it, and there are needles and rocks sticking into her spine. Her ponytail is jarred loose; her lip is swelling; her elbow is being shoved against the ground at a mildly painful angle.
But none of that matters, because Luke is on top of her, the tip of his nose brushing hers. She can feel his breath on her mouth, and her breathing is way too fast, and her heart is about to burst out of her chest.
Annabeth laughs from somewhere far away, and they come back to earth. He coughs, she laughs awkwardly, and they rise. He swings gracefully back into a tree, and she resumes her seat at the base of the tree, fixing her hair and rubbing her back and trying to forget the brush of his breath over her mouth.
She is twelve years old and four and a half months when she meets her first satyr.
He stumbles onto their campground in the middle of the night. Annabeth is sleeping like a very dead rock in her stolen sleeping bag, and Luke has run to the convenience store they saw in Danville to pick up some…female necessities…and a few drinks. She forces herself to say nothing on the nights when he cracks open a beer – Annabeth is always asleep, and he never drinks more than two.
She is stoking the campfire when she hears a noise. She tenses, her hand slipping inside her hoodie pocket to finger her Mace canister that magically contains her spear. Her charms clink reassuringly together on her bracelet. The rustling continues, and then she hears an aggravated bleating. She tenses further – a goat? In these woods? – and barely holds back her gasp when a figure staggers into the circle of light.
He is young, perhaps younger than her, and his face still has the roundness of youth. He wears a plain t-shirt that reads, "Have you hugged a satyr today?" His baggy pants are hiding what his obviously fake shoes are not – hooves. One shoe is off, and other mashed in a very strange way. The boy – satyr, she corrects – is cursing under his breath.
"Um," she says.
He spins around and falls, nearly squishing Annabeth. He twists at the last minute and lands on pinecones.
Biting back laughter, Thalia snorts, rolls her eyes, and helps him up.
He is busy eating their Coke cans when Luke comes back from the 7-11. He raises an eyebrow at Thalia, but his eyes say I trust you.
The next day, they introduce Annabeth to Grover the Satyr, and they tell her that they have a destination.
"Camp Half-blood!" she cheers. "I've never been to summer camp!"
Thalia smiles and buries her face in Annabeth's blonde hair. "We'll have a blast, kiddo."
"You'll do everything with me, right?" she asks, looking up. Her eyes, usually focused and hard, and filled with that soft light of childhood. Laughing, Thalia says yes.
"Promise," insists the girl. "Promise you'll be with me at camp. Promise me we'll play together!"
"I promise," says Thalia.
She is twelve years old and five months even when she is trapped in a Cyclops' lair.
She is shivering, sobbing in the corner of the room at the beast advances on her. He is speaking in her mother's voice, only her mother would never be so kind – all she wanted was kindness. All she wanted was love. Just one hug, she would plead when she was small. No, you'll mess up my makeup. No, you'll ruin my dress. No, I don't have time. No – go ask Lilah.
Lilah, Lilah, Lilah. Suddenly it is Lilah's voice, and she's asking why Thalia got her fired, she didn't do anything bad, it was an addiction, it wasn't her fault, and what if Lilah's dead now because Thalia planted that stupid necklace in her pocket? What if Lilah OD'd because of Thalia? Can she have that blood on her hands?
At twelve years and five months, she experiences such guilt that she is not sure that she can bear it anymore.
She is four thousand five hundred sixty days, four hundred twenty minutes, and six hundred seconds old when she has her first kiss.
Grover is pulling Annabeth up the hill to Camp Half-blood. A centaur is standing at the top, shooting down arrows at the pursuing monsters. People – campers, she supposes – are in armor, waiting on the crest.
But it is not enough.
There isn't enough time.
They will overcome Grover and Annabeth, overcome Luke, overcome her, and everything that she's fought for – everything that she strove for, bled for, cried for – will be for nothing, and she can't stand for that.
So she stands for freedom.
Luke freezes when he sees her turning back. His face contorts into a mask of acute pain, and she knows that he has seen what she has. No, he mouths, and she frowns and shakes her head viciously. Yes.
His face is agonized, and as he passes her he grabs her waist. Grover and Annabeth are safe, camp is only a hundred yards behind her, but they cannot all make it. Luke won't make it. Luke, her Luke, that boy on the bench who bought her Chinese and laughed with her and lived with her – and that is what she is really standing for.
His mouth crashes down on hers and his arms tighten on her waist for millennia. She feels wetness on her cheeks, but her eyes are dry, and he is crying. Passion, rage, hope, love – she feels them all dancing on their mouths, and she presses back and holds on and prays he understands.
He lets go, and he runs.
She lets go, and she stands.
Raising her shield and her spear, she fights.
Blood is pouring, and with a start she realizes that it's hers. She is in pain, she is hurting – she is dying. She is vaguely aware of Annabeth screaming, of hands trying to help her, but they are unimportant.
What is important is remembering – she can feel those lips on her again, that power, that passion, that beautiful thing that she shared, and she knows that it will be her last kiss.
Something is creeping up her legs. It itches, and it hurts in a dull, throbbing, ache. It is spreading, and her arms are lifting, and she sees green seeping in from the corners of her eyes, and she thinks of Daphne. I'm so sorry, she says.
She used to think that becoming a tree was an honorable thing for a parent to do for a child – the god saved the child, and their memory lived on. Now, as that dull throbbing ache engulfs her limbs, as her consciousness fades away forever, as her memories die inside her mind, she thinks, This is Hell.
She is four thousand, five hundred, sixty days, twelve thousand minutes, and zero seconds old when "Thalia" dies.
There is no time.
There is no age.
There is no her.
The tree is vaguely aware that it is bigger now.
Its leaves stretch farther into the sky, its branches thicker and firmer. A small creature comes and plays on her branches sometimes, her strange form startling away the birds that land between the leaves. It feels the sun pulsing against its trunk, and it takes in the energy happily. Roots suck away the minerals in that great green Earth beneath.
The tree is content as it is, standing watch and waiting, happy in itself. At night, when the dreams come, it tells itself that the creature in them could never have been it, because a tree was what it was, not a creature. It tells itself, What journey?
The tree has grown strong.
It is late at night, and the tree is dreaming when it happens. A sudden weight against its trunk, a pressure against its skin, that it what wakes it. And it is in the middle of dreaming that it was the creature and the creature was laughing, and then the tree finds the disturbance and for a moment the tree becomes a shadow of a girl. The tree is an echo of that creature in its dreams, and suddenly she is crying with the boy, and she is screaming inside because she isn't happy.
Then the strange combination of dream and waking is gone, and the tree goes back to sleep. It leaves the sobbing, wounded boy alone, because it is just a tree. It was always a tree.
What does a crying boy matter to it?
A long period elapses; the tree doesn't care.
It is grown fully tall now; its branches embrace the sky and the stars every day. No creatures come to play or cry, and the tree exists peacefully, living and breathing and swaying, and it is content.
The tree is dying.
It is confused, upset; what has happened? The crying creature is back, so different that the tree nearly failed to see him. His face is stony like the slabs of rock beneath the earth, and he shoves something into its trunk, and it hurts – what is this?
But there is a part of it that understands the pain, that knows what's happening, and that is the part that cries and dreams and is so very sad. That part cries out, not at the pain, but at the inflicter. That part's screams echo in the tree's soul as it feels itself withering.
It is sort of like going to sleep, because the tree is tired and that part is more awake now; but at the same time, it is like being horribly, horribly aware, because the tree can feel the death seeping into its leaves and trunk and roots, sapping its strength and robbing its soul.
And still the part screams.
It is after a while of this – the only time the tree has wanted to know time – when it is over.
Relief spreads like sweet water against its trunk, as some of the strange creatures lay a blanket over it. But still, something is wrong.
Something is beginning to change.
It can feel the screaming part go quiet, and a sudden sense of loss flashes through it.
There is a strange shifting in its bark, and a different kind of pain, and then it is gone, and there is no more crying. There is no more screaming.
The tree falls into that abyss of sleep, and it dreams no more.
She is new when she comes into the world.
She is lying on a hill – camp? she thinks – and there are children in armor with torches, watching her warily. A figure bursts through the crowd – a boy. He is rumpled, like he was just woken from sleep, but he comes close to her and kneels, helping her sit up.
Where is Luke?
She longs to ask, but she is terrified of the answer.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees a flash of gold curls and serious gray eyes, but she brushes the thought aside – that girl is far too old to be Annabeth.
"Who are you?"
"I am Thalia," she says quietly. Yes. Thalia. "Daughter of Zeus."
She is four months from her next birthday – whatever that is – and she is alone.
That girl on the hillside was Annabeth, grown-up and so strong and independent it scares her. So she and Annabeth skirt around each other. And Luke…well. Luke the betrayer, Luke the poisoner, Luke the murderer. "How could this be?" her mind murmurs. But it is, and that is enough.
She is confused. She was someone different before she became a tree – a happier person, a sadder person…more of a person. It is as though she lost who she was in the tree, and when she came out she had to identify herself by her parent. She is not her father; it doesn't matter who her father is; but the rest of the camp doesn't agree.
The only person she feels some sort of strange camaraderie with is Percy, son of Poseidon. She's pretty sure that he's as sick of hearing that tag line as she is of hearing "Daughter of Zeus." She asks him one day.
He smiles, a strange smile filled with sadness. "Yeah," he says. "It drives me up a wall. But," here he sighs, "I guess that that's just…how it goes."
She nods, but she knows that she could never go with the flow like Percy. She needs to make her own path, and she knows that he feels the same way, but neither of them can really say anything. Thunder crashes overhead, and she pretends that her tears are rain as she turns her face to her pillow.
She is two months from her birthday when Annabeth comes to see her.
They sit awkwardly on the steps of the Zeus cabin for a while, just watching camp go by before them. Finally, Annabeth leans over and rests her head on Thalia's shoulder. Keeping with old times, Thalia leans her head against Annabeth's and strokes her hair gently.
Annabeth presses her face into Thalia's shoulder, and when her shirt turns damp she says nothing because she wishes she could cry with someone too.
When Annabeth is done, she looks at Thalia and then draws her head down onto Annabeth's shoulder, and Thalia cries all the harder, because in her mind Annabeth is still that brave, brash seven-year-old. Now Annabeth is like a mother and a sister and an adult all rolled into one, and it hurts.
When Thalia has cried herself out, they hug like they used to, and a small piece of Thalia clicks into place, like a puzzle.
"Wise Girl!" It is Percy, calling to Annabeth from across the yard. "We're gonna be late!"
"I'll be right there!"
He makes a face, and she sticks out her tongue. "Waiting for two minutes won't kill you, Seaweed Brain."
She looks back at Thalia and raises an eyebrow at the smile that is lighting up her face. "What?" she asks.
Thalia smiles and shakes her head. She watches Annabeth run off with Percy, and she sees a flash of seven-year-old joy in those eyes.
It is less than one week to her birthday when her life is shot to hell.
She cannot stop the scene from replaying over and over in her mind – Annabeth, disappearing over the cliff with that monster, Percy's face, his yells, the fight…and the Hunters. The freaking Hunters of Artemis, and they are about the last people on the good not-so-green earth that she wants to see right now.
Zoe is being snobby and seems content to rub Thalia's nose into Luke's betrayal from now until the apocalypse, and the horrible thing is that if Thalia were more honest, she would let her because she feels that it is her fault. But Thalia is not that good of a person, so she gives Zoe the finger and stalks off. She stops near the edges of the camp, and the wolves wending their ways about her are comforting in some measure.
When Percy and Bianca emerge from the tent with Artemis, Thalia can see the difference in the elder di Angelo. She wanted to be that confident, that strong, but she wasn't willing to pay the price, once upon a time. Years and years go – though to her, only yesterday – Artemis had offered her a place in her Hunters, and she had almost accepted. But her eye had caught Luke's, and she knew that they asked of her the one thing that she could never give up.
If she gave up Luke, she would stop being Thalia.
Apollo gives her an age, and then the wheel to the sun bus, and she almost crashes it. The only reason – the only reason – that she does as little damage as she does is because she can picture Luke, leaning over her, guiding her, helping her, and that gets her through.
It is one day before her sixteenth birthday when her heart shatters.
She is up on Mt. Tam, struggling to stay alive. She is aware of Artemis, freed from her bonds, lunging at Atlas, and of Percy struggling beneath the weight of the sky. Annabeth is fighting a dracaena, and Zoe is lunging out at her father with her lady. And Thalia…
She is fighting the only person she ever loved.
It is just like their sparring matches from years – years? – ago, as they would dance around the clearing where they were sleeping that night, matching blow for blow and block for block. Neither gives an inch or takes one, until Thalia manages to get first blood from his forearm. She glances at his face, and what she sees there was neither dark nor evil nor marred by scars. It is an expression of fierce pride in her skills, of love, of zeal and passion and life, and she has seen it so many times before that her breath catches in her throat and her tears in her eyes.
And then it is gone. He is near the edge now, and she has to be careful, because a drop like that would kill him, and even though he is a traitor, he is still Luke. Her Luke is there somewhere, and she can't…
But her training, her sparring with him, has worked far too well. He moves towards her and she thrusts out, instinctively, with her shield. She hears Annabeth screaming, and she feels her soul sobbing as he loses his balance and falls, backwards, off the side of the mountain.
And now Zoe is dying, and Atlas is falling back beneath his old burden. The silver chariot bears them away, and Zoe is gone, and among the stars their shines a new constellation. She deserves it, Thalia thinks, but she deserves life more.
She is five hours to sixteen and heartbroken and dead inside when she meets her father.
He tells her he is proud of her, and while she is overjoyed, she is also incredulous; she has just suffered the most she has ever suffered in her life. Her friend has died, her love is either dead or still in service to the Lord of Time, two of her other friends have suffered horribly, she has almost been killed, and for god's sake, she has lost seven years of her life because of this man. Because right now, as he delegates and dictates and smiles just a bit falsely at her, he is more man than god, and she thinks that he knows it.
She sees Artemis step forward to her – their – father, and he nods as she speaks, frowning. She hears Percy whisper something to Annabeth, and the corner of her mouth curls up into a sad smile. He loves her, even though he's too thick to see that at the moment. In time, it will come, just as all things do.
And then it is over, and she is the first lieutenant, and it feels different than she thought it would feel…than Zoe had said it would feel. She said that it felt like the weight of the world was lifted from your shoulders. It doesn't, not for her. Instead, she realizes that she has forever to get over her heartbreak. She meets Artemis's eyes, and for a moment she sees a flash of severe empathy to her. Then it is gone, and Artemis is her Lady looking to her Lieutenant. Thalia bows.
When she rises, there is no more Tree Thalia or Old Thalia or Happy or Angry or Sad Thalia. There is just…
She is one day from sixteen for all the days of her life.
She will never stop loving him.
Holy crap, guys. This started out as the next chapter for Bittersweet Symphony, and I...what?
Seventeen freakin' pages, man.
Extra gifts to all you amazing people who actually read this whole thing. I love you.